Quebec in time

Despite all of its leanings in favour of its French heritage, Quebec City owes as much to its British forebears as it does our historic rivals. Oddly enough it’s because of the British defeat over the French in 1759 that so much French culture, including language, has survived: allowing the most recent British citizens to keep their old ways made it much less likely they would side with America in the event of further hostilities south of the border. Because of this there is such a blend of influences from the two once competing nations, although unfortunately in my case this also included he weather; sweltering 30+ degree heat followed by it absolutely pissing it down.

Not that battling the elements was my first challenge, that being finding a way out of Quebec coach station at 4 in the morning. Thanks to an open gate in an underground car park I managed it eventually, and (after a decent night’s sleep) found the city to be more than worth anything it wanted to throw at me.

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Within the fortified city walls, the only ones north of Mexico still standing, Vieux-Quebec is just a small part of the city overall (not that I bothered which much of the rest of it), and walking its streets it very much feels like a quaint European town. It’s no wonder the ‘Historic District of Old Québec’ was designated as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985.

Despite its protected history however, it’s still very modern and the past and present are often combined. The citadelle overlooking the St Lawrence river is an official residence of the monarch of Canada (ie, Queen Elizabeth II) and also hosted conferences between leaders of the allied powers during WWII in which many of the details for the D-Day landings were discussed. More than this though, it is still an active military base and home to the Royal 22nd Regiment, often referred to as the ‘Van Doos’ due to the fact that they are the only French-speaking regiment within the Canadian Army.

Despite this your can still tour the historic fortifications, although only by following a guide at all times. Obviously much is off-limits (including on of the oldest brick buildings in North America, although that’s kept off the tour because it’s empty and boring), but there is also a museum which tells of he foundation and history of the 22nd Regiment, from WWI, through Korea and Afghanistan.

SAM_5028Standing on a citadelle lookout also gives one of the best views of perhaps its most recognisable feature, the Château Frontenac. Despite celebrating its own 125th anniversary, it was in fact itself built as a hotel, catering to those who wished to explore the city’s history even back in the 1890s and is considered to be he most photographed hotel in the world. Purpose built for tourists, obviously its link to the present means there is now a Starbucks located just behind the lobby.

SAM_5107Despite a few failed attempts at conversing in French (it’s appreciated that you try, but can often lead to being asked questions you can’t knowingly answer), he most confusing thing during my stay however, was an art installation called “Où tu vas quand tu dors en marchant…?”, which translates to “where are you going when you’re sleepwalking?” A series of tableaus which seemed to bear no resemblance to each other, one a depiction of a protest turned riot in which most mannequins were wearing animal masks, another a long corrider decorated with shoes and wheeled objects (a pram, a skateboards, an office chair) all painted pure white which represented the stages of life, and another which I can only describe as “very performance studies” which took place in an elaborate garden.

Obviously these had deeper meanings which I failed to completely comprehend, but are much like Quebec itself. It doesn’t matter if you understand everything or just pieces here and there, the beauty is in just walking around and taking it all in.

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Right said Fredericton

There were several reasons I wanted to stop off in Fredericton during my trip across Canada; I’d initially wanted to stay in all ten provinces (although ultimately never made it to Newfoundland and Labrador), and also because Facebook often automatically tags posts made from Barnstaple as being in the North Devon which is a Fredericton suburb, rather than part of the English county. If I was going to stop off somewhere in New Brunswick, I might as well actually post something from there for the age old reason of just because I could.

I also intended to visit King’s Landing (no, not that King’s Landing) which is a historical settlement which recreated life in 1800s Canada and which I thought would be a great place to learn about Canada’s history. Unfortunately this hadn’t yet opened for the season, but in the end I ended up staying there as another friend from Australia is now living there and catching up with him was on my list of reasons to actually travel across Canada in the first place. The fact he actually lives in Devon was an added bonus.

Just like home

Although the recent floods which Fredericton had suffered from had receded, the fact that my first evening there was still rather wet meant that the brief tour Dan and his girlfriend Amy had wanted to give me was cut short at Picaroons, the local brewery where they went to refill their reusable 64 fl.oz jugs which, much to my immature amusement, are called Growlers.

The next morning we toured the city properly however, with the added bonus of being able to cycle, and I even managed to navigate Canada’s Great Trail app enough to get the “Explorer” achievement award for exploring the trail in a second province. We stopped off for ice cream (although their favourite place had also not yet opened for the summer) by he banks of the mighty St. John river and enjoyed he serenity as Dan and Amy gave me an overview of exactly how high the floods had been, with detritus still visible in some places showing where it had been washed up.

For a better experience of nature in its own environment, we also went for a walk in he nearby Mactaquac Provincial Park. Although this was a great way to see some local scenery, including Eagles soaring above us, unfortunately the flies and mosquitoes reminded us that nature is a force of balance of, which includes enjoyment/annoyance as well.

Although Fredericton is not a big place and has few of the amenities on offer in a city even such as Halifax, most likely the reason someone joked I would be staying in “No-Funswick”, it was still a particular highlight of my visit based on another of its reputations, that of New Brunswick kitchen parties. Rather than being a specifically organised event these, I was told, were the impromptu gatherings which occured when friends and neighbours dropped in on each other and everyone congregates in the room with the most abundant food and drink.

We don’t have Moose marshes at home though

Although I never experienced one of these for myself, even with such a short stay it was easy to see how these would occur. On my first day a couple of Dan’s friends were longboarding around the area and so popped into the kitchen for no other reason than to say hi, and joined us on our trip to Mactaquac Provincial Park. More than just this, a neighbour also came over to introduce herself when seeing us in the front garden (Dan and his housemates hadn’t been living there that long, and I fully understood his explanation of why you wouldn’t want to spend anymore time han neccesary outside during the winter), called over another couple of neighbours who were walking past, and were even kind enough to give them some Tomato plant cuttings when they saw the work they had been doing to organise the lawn and growing beds.

Although his wasn’t the first I’d seen of Canadian hospitality on his trip, it did show that the reputation for being social, and having such a sense of community, wasn’t an exaggeration. From what I saw, that’s just daily life in New Brunswick.

Good Charlottetown

On my journey to Prince Edward Island, it’s fair to say the weather was miserable. It was so foggy that when crossing the Confederation Bridge I was unable to see either shorelinefor the majority of the crossing, just the coach on an ever continuing road into grey nothingness. The scenery didn’t seem that much more appealing when we reached the otherside either, but eventually I arrived in Charlottetown.

Luckily the hostel was alot more inviting, and the proprietor was one of those select few people, either side of the Atlantic, to recognise my Cyberdyne Systems hoodie, and combined with the rack of VHS that were still available to watch in the common room, knew that I would at least be staying in my kind of environment.

I was also sharing my dorm with a lovely German couple who were both travelling on working tourist visas who reminded me that for some reason nationalities other than the UK can apply for them up until the age of 35, but like the weather I guess you can’t have everything. I attempted a brief look around when it had stopped raining, but the fact it was still wet and foggy meant that I soon turned round and my only meaningful stop was at the convenience store/laundrette/take away.

The next morning however, the sun was out and I was able to experience the small city in all it’s glory. Similar in size to somewhere like Cairns, everything is within walking distance, and it really is a pleasure to just stroll through and take it all in. Although I was surprised at first, it’s easy to see why such a renowned company as Electronic Arts would keep an office here.

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Home of (the under construction) Confederation

Of all it’s attractions though, Anne of Green Gables aside, it is the fact that it is often referred to as the birthplace of Canadian Confederation which garners the most attention, with everything from the bridge to the Art Centre named in honour of this. It is also something I felt I learn more about considering I’m spending 4 months here, and also after watching Charley Boorman’s Extreme Frontiers series (also a roadtrip from coast to coast but, as the name somewhat suggests, with a lot more in between) and being likewise impresssed with the tour guides referring to themselves as “heritage activists”.

Naturally a building with national importance after it played host to the first conference, Province House is currently being well looked after under the scaffolding in which it is now encased. Unable to get a decent view of the exterior in addition to obviously not being allowed inside, the aforementioned Confederation Centre of the Arts next door is playing temporary host to a recreation of the Confederation Chamber where the first steps towards a united nation of Canada were undertaken. The chandeliers are the originals which have been moved however, safely out of reach while visitors are able to fully interact with the rest of the display.

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The maritime theme ia still presemt

Luckily this is not all the town has to offer, as it also home to St. Dunstan’s Basillica, a cathedral which was granted the title due to the community’s efforts in restoring it after significant fire damage. There are also a number of other historic buildings which are still used in official capacities in the province’s capital, as well as a small boardwalk along the western side of the town.

I only spent one full day in Charlottetown which would still have been enough time for me to see and do everything even if Province House was open, but I could easily have spent more time just enjoying the charm of the place. I was soon on my way however, but this time the more clement weather gave me a much better experience of travelling over the Confederation bridge. All eight miles of it, which took us over ten minutes from shore to shore.

The Finest Cape

Although I hadn’t planned, much like when I was in Australia my first weekend in Canada happened to be a long bank holiday weekend. In this case Monday was Victoria Day, apparently a day to “celebrate” all things British, as if being treated to a royal wedding wasn’t enough.

With three whole days ahead of us, and no need for me to sit around waiting to open a bank account this time, Ashley and I took to the road and headed to Cape Breton, the island which makes up the western part of Nova Scotia. Our main destination was the Cape Breton Highlands National Park and the Cabot Trail which runs through it. Although this is just up the road from Halifax in Canadian terms, the fact it was a five hour drive is just a small indication of how large this country really is.

When reaching the park we had to stop at the visitor’s centre to purchase our park passes for the weekend, something which does seem a little strange compared to the amount of times I’ve driven through Exmoor, but I guess it’s harder to charge a fee to experience a such a beautiful landscape when people have been calling it home for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before it was established as a national park. Nevertheless, we paid and drove through the unmanned barriers where no-one was there to check our passes, but at least we had made our contributions to the upkeep of such fantastic scenery.

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Our first hiking trail was the Skyline, one of the most popular within the whole park, and it was easy to see why. Armed with a plan of attack if we had to defend ourselves against any of the bears which the signs and leaflets had warned us we may see (in order to make ourselves as big and defencive as possible, Ashley would jump on my shoulders and throw the stones I would pass up to her) we set off for what would usually be a circular walk, but was unfortunately a single trail as one of the routes was not yet open. We were still able to make it to the boardwalk at the far end however, and enjoy the views it had to offer, and which had made the Cabot Trail a mainstay of guidebook recommendations the world over.

Our second for the day was the Corney Brook trail, and as one that was less popular and went through more enclosed woodland, for this we paid closer attention to the coyote habitat signs, and each picked up a long stick that had been left where the trail began which we would be able to use as walking poles/weapons where appropriate. Luckily, again, our walk remained attack free but rather than a 360 degree view this trail came to an end at a small waterfall which provided a fresh cool breeze after an afternoon of (potentially) life threatening hiking.

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That night we stayed at the HI hostel in Pleasant Bay which had just reopened. As one of the first weekends of the summer season they had just lit their first campfire of the year and most guests were also Nova Scotian ‘locals’. In fact the only other guest who was not from Canada was Turkish, but who now called Ottawa his home.

We started the next day carrying on along the Cabot Trail, stopping for a couple of short trails and at many lookouts along the way. When trying to call out Moose from the woods we were driving past we were lucky enough to catch a very quick sighting of two stood right in the road in front of us. Although this was unfortunately too quick to get our cameras out, it was still a success nontheless. Wild Moose in Canada, and on call as well!

Our big hike in the afternoon was the Coastal trail which took us along a number of rocky beaches on the eastern side of the National Park. Like most things in North America, the rocks were on the larger side and we were often jumping between them one at a time, but even right by the sea there were the last remnants of the winter weather, and so I was also able to add standing on Canadian snow to the list of my trip’s achievements.

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Some friends of Ashley’s were also kind enough to let us stay with them at their lakeside cottage that night, and I spent the evening enjoying even more generous Canadian hospitality (complete with generous helpings of Canadian beer). Before departing back for Halifax the next day we enjoyed a traditional Martime game of Washertoss, which is exactly as it sounds (tossing metal washers into a target), and Dave was also kind enough to show us a few beaches around the area.

Watching seagulls follow Lobster boats back to the shore we were able to find a number of shells and even a solitary boot which had been washed up, and before heading west to the Pacific I found the perfect spot to dip my feet in the Atlantic ocean at what would be my most easterly location in this entire country….

And bloody hell it was cold!!!

Taken Down To Peg

With Halifax situated on the coast, naturally there are a number of scenic spots in the city’s vicinity, and on one night Ashley drove us up to a particular favourite of them, Peggys Cove, to watch the sunset. She wasn’t the only one to have this idea however, as there was a small number of others who had come to enjoy the view, although hardly enough to be as over crowded as I can imagine it would get during the peak summertime.

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The focal point of the sunset, perhaps somewhat ironically, was a small lighthouse built on the rocky outcroppings which the waves crash against, occasionally fatally for those either unaware or overconfident and who aren’t aware of the dangers. Luckily everyone enjoyed the spectacle carefree that night though, as the moon was also visible and the colours of he sun were spectacular against such a beautiful landscape.

Although the lighthouse is the ideal spot to watch the sunset, Peggy’s Cove itself is a small fishing village that perfectly fits the idea of what one might look like: small wooden houses surrounded by lobster pots, ropes, and all manner of fishing equipment necessary for the local livlihood, to say nothing of the boats themselves. Even in the dark when driving back through remote Nova Scotia, the numerous lakes also offered a picturesque view of what Maritime scenery has to offer.

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As if this wasn’t Canadian enough though, Ashley and I also wailed along to Avril Lavine on the stereo with our complimentary singing voices (ie, we’re just as bad as each other), and when returning to Halifax we also stopped off at Tim Horton’s for some TimBits (essentially the holes from the middle of the donuts). Not bad for the night I also had my first locally brewed Alexander Kieth’s, another of Halifax’s must try local specialties.

The HaliFax of Life

When having dinner with my brother in London, I had a fortune cookie which said that I should “Take a moment to rework your schedule”.

I can’t say I took that advice, as I was on my way to Heathrow and about to embark on a four month coast to coast backpacking adventure across the second largest country in the world, Canada. This is something I had been wanting to do since at least returning from Australia, although I had always planned to return in some fashion since a brief visit 14 years ago.

Starting on the east coast I arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and was greeted at the airport by Ashley, a friend I had made in Melbourne and who was more than happy to catch up and show me around her home city. Although it is not as big as many others it is one steeped in history, and not just because being on the eastern coast made it easier for European settlers to reach.

To explore some of this one of our first stops was the city’s Citadel, a fortress looking over the surrounding area and heavily armed with numerous cannons positioned looking out over the bay. The city’s main defence in a region constantly fought over by the British and French, it was in fact so well fortified and intimidating that it was never once attacked.

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“Ian where’s your troosers?”

As well as explaining the history of how the Citadel and city developed, there are also several hands on exhibits, including a tailor’s shop where you can try on a historic uniform, part of which is requires a kilt. The decision for me to do this was made as soon as Ashley saw them, but I was happy to give it a go, and soon was being instructed on how to go about actually fastening one up.

To mark the centenary of the First World War, the Citadel is also home to a recreation of a front line trench. While Halifax might be about as far from the fields of Europe as you can get, the port played a large role in both World Wars, in part by serving as the embarkation point for the Canadian Navies who carried and escorted convoys of troops and supplies from North America. The city is also still host to the shipyards today which, in the 1940’s, allowed Canada to boast the world’s third largest Navy.

That’s not to say the city didn’t see any tragedy itself unfortunately, as a collision involving a munitions ship in 1917 killed around 2000 people in the surrounding area and was the largest man made explosion until Hiroshima. Aid poured in from neighbouring provinces and even the United States however, and neither the explosion or the help provided have been forgotten, with Halifax still gifting a Christmas Tree to Boston each year in recognition of their efforts.

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And it was gooooooood.

Today the city is rightfully proud of how its seafaring heritage has gone from strength to strength, and like any similar boardwalk, there are also stands and shacks set up to make the most of the tourist trade which was beginning to appear for the season. Something I took advantage of by way of having my first Beaver’s Tail: a delicacy which is merely the same shape as the Canadian mascot’s appendage, but is actually a thin slab of fried donut batter, which is then covered with a sweet topping of your choice. Naturally I went for the Maple option.

The boardwalk also boasts a number of artistic sculptures including some drunken lampposts (apparently this was the most humanlike pose the artists could envision), and for the small price of $2.50 you can also take a return ferry journey to the opposite shore in Dartmouth. Affectionately known as “The Darkside” to local Haligonians, there is also the option of strolling along this shoreline as well, although as a more industrialised area it’s main attraction is the view which takes in all of downtown Halifax and the whole boardwalk, which also includes historic vessels and monuments dedicated to those who fought in the wars and for whom Halifax Harbour would be the last place they would leave their footprints on Candian soil.

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Pre-peak tourist season.

In contrast to this is Pier 21, the place which was the first step for an even greater number, and is now the site of the Canadian Museum of Immigration. My first port of call here was in a temporary exhibition which focused on the causes and plights of refugees around the world today, dispelling several commonly held beliefs and which also explained Canada’s role in helping many find new homes, including the fact that Canada was the first to recognise and take in refugees who had to flee their own countries for gender or LGBT+ reasons.

The bulk of the museum was dedicated to the history of those who came to make Canada their home, from the earliest settlers to those who passed through Pier 21 itself until it closed in 1971, and beyond. There was also a section which included questions from the Candian citizenship test and I’m happy to say I scored the pass mark of 75%. Although I’m sure the actual test consists of more than just eight questions, it’s nice to know that it could be one possible post-Brexit option.

As with any country however, Canadian immigration has not been without its controversies, something which at one point included hefty charges for Chinese citizens who came to help build the railroad. Even during my time in Halifax the news was reporting on demonstrations and counter protests towards illegal immigrants making their way to Canada across the Quebec border from the U.S.

All in all though, as the start of my adventure it would have been hard to have topped the hospitality of old and new friends alike in a seaport city which perhaps made the biggest contribution to Canada adopting the Multiculturalism Act as an official policy.

Fragrant Harbouring Feelings

Eventually my time in Australia came to an end, but that didn’t mean my trip was over. Without being able to fly back without a stop off somewhere, I also had a few days in Hong Kong.

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I can’t speak for everyone, but my “wise old Chinaman” was wrong…

I arrived in the “Special Administrative Region of China”, to give it its official designation, just prior to the Chinese New Year, and although I wasn’t there to enjoy the full festivities, I did get to see the city decorated and celebrating the time of year. Not only did I see displays in shopping centres honouring each of the animals of the Chinese zodiac, but I also discovered Dragon performances whilst wandering the streets, and was even given the chance to hold one when visiting the Happy Valley Racecourse. I was also told that doing so would bring me good luck, although my wallet at the end of the evening told a different story.

Although I obviously won’t complain at being there during this time, it was also hardly needed as the former British colony had its own sense of style regardless.

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Didn’t see his son, Luke, aged 5…

No longer part of the Empire and yet not fully Chinese either, Hong Kong’s uniqueness is around for all to see, with attractions such as the Avenue of Stars boasting its own home-grown film and TV talent, including Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Located on the waterfront of the main harbour, not only does it also offer a great view of the world-famous skyline on the opposite shore, but the way it is lit up at night effectively offers two for the price of one.

While their unique architecture ensure they are even more impressive than most found in other cities (despite all my time in Australia it was here I found a skyscraper designed to resemble Koalas), when lit up they all combine to become one instantly recognisable dazzling display.

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It’s even bigger up close.

Although the city may have embraced the modern as much as any other, it is also one which still appreciates the more traditional as well. On Lantau Island is the Tian Tan Buddha, a Bronze statue which has dominated the landscape since it was built in the early 90s not just due to its 34 metre height, but also because of the 268 steps it takes to reach it.

It was built next to the Po Lin monastery, and the entire site is such a great contrast to the hustle and bustle of the main city. Not only are there various walking trails throughout the woodlands around the site, but there are also cattle which freely wander the ground. Despite being used to tourists and locals alike, they also are also at home enough to make you realise that you should be the one to move around them, rather than vice versa. Although this is all located some way outside of the city, it is easily reached via the metro and bus routes, or there’s also a cable car for the more adventurous, but will take up the better part of a day trip.

Although I had always wanted to stop off somewhere in a similar way to Kuala Lumpur on the way out to Australia, one reason I chose Hong Kong is that a housemate from university is now living over there, who I hadn’t seen since his wedding some four and a half years previously. Although we were only able to catch up briefly, it was still great to share a meal at a street market restaurant, and have someone a little more experienced than me when haggling for souvenirs to take home with me.